Eric Chester (RCN) takes a critical look at the proposed Left Unity Party.

Eric Chester
Eric Chester

The Crisis of Capitalism has led to a polarisation of political viewpoints, as a widening segment of the working class feels the devastating impact of the downturn in decreasing wages and benefits, and the rapid deterioration of social services. The Labour party has failed to meaningfully respond to the crisis, having become yet another electoral machine, tacking and manoeuvering with no goal beyond taking power, and distributing patronage. As the disillusionment with the Labour Party deepens, a substantial number of working people are ready for an alternative to mainstream politics.

The right wing has already gained support, as can be seen in terms of a sharp rise in the UKIP vote with its populist appeal to nationalism and xenophobia. In this context it is understandable that there has been a push toward left unity. The most salient case in point, the creation of Left Unity, sparked by Ken Loach’s nostalgic documentary chronicling the welfare state of the late 1940′s. Left Unity does not claim to be a Socialist organisation. Its claim is to reform capitalism by reviving the welfare state, a goal to be attained by pressuring the establishment. In many respects, Left Unity is a throw back to the early days of the Labour Party. In the 1890′s, the Independent Labour Party made the conscious decision to submerge their perspective of a gradual road to socialism into a broader party, promoting Social reform, one that would not be socialist, but would have links to the trade unions.

In acting as a catalyst in the formation of the Labour Party, the ILP made the mistake of assuming the new party would be soon won to Socialism. The ILP recognised the failure of this position when it left the labour party in the 1930′s. Wave after wave of socialists has entered the Labour Party only to be swallowed up or spit out. In the current period, in the midst of the worst economic downturn since the 1930′s, and the decline of Britain as a world power, social reformers can at best hope to slow down the spiral downward in the working class’s standard of living.

Socialists should only participate in electoral politics in order to advance a perspective that starts with the necessity of a revolutionary transformation of Society. Furthermore, electoral politics should be viewed as subordinate to direct action in the workplace and community. Fundamental change will not occur through the electoral area. From this underlying perspective, there is no compelling reason for socialists to join a political movement based on winning elections and a liberal critique of Capitalist Society. Such a movement will only serve to move revolutionaries into the mainstream, and nostalgia to recreate a welfare state, away from a commitment to Socialist Politics.

Certainly, everything else being equal, unity is better than disunity. Nevertheless, genuine unity can only occur when there is agreement on fundamental principles. The level of agreement required to participate in the creation of a political party is considerably greater than that needed for joint activity within a single issue campaign. The disagreement between those leading left unity and revolutionaries is one that reflects differences in perspectives. The Left Unity project is a project we should avoid.

A comment from Nick Clarke (RCN)

While agreeing with a lot of Eric’s points, I wanted to comment on a couple of issues he raises. Firstly, his sentence in the first paragraph: “The Labour Party has failed to meaningfully respond to the crisis, has become yet another electoral machine, tacking and manoeuvring with no goal beyond taking power and distributing patronage” suggests that these characteristics of the Labour Party are a recent phenomenon. In reality, they are traits the Labour Party has held for many decades, perhaps even since its founding.

Secondly, in paragraph 3 Eric declares that the political perspective put forward by the Radical Independence Campaign “WILL be the same as that being put forward by Left Unity in England.” Now, while this is quite possible, I think it is a bit premature to start baldly predicting it will inevitably happen. It is not pre-ordained, but will depend on the political intervention of forces opposed to such an outcome.

17th July 2013

A comment from Allan Armstrong (RCN)

The political nature of Left Unity is not predetermined either. An earlier posting (Socialist Unity) pointed to the attempts by Nick Wrack of the Independent Socialist Network to ensure that Left Unity is specifically a socialist organisation, and not just another social democratic/Labourist organisation looking back nostalgically to ‘The Spirit of 45′.

29th July 13